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Content Process

Using pair writing for better content collaboration

Robert Mills • 3 minutes

This video is the seventh in our Content Strategy Advent Calendar series.

Here, Audun Rundberg runs us through the stages we can adopt in pair writing workshops to facilitate better content collaboration.

#ContentStrategyAdvent: Day 7 – Using pair writing for better content collaboration, by @audunru

Video transcript

Hello! I’m Audun Rundberg from Netlife Research. Today I’d like to give you a tip on how to make your web writing workshops better.

Whenever we organise a web writing workshop, we like to use pair writing. If you’re not familiar with pair writing, it’s exactly what it sounds like: two people sit down together and they work on a piece of content, in a pair.

So in a pair writing workshop, what we do is we invite a group of people to work together on content in pairs. I like to pair each person up with someone who has a different role than them in the company. For instance, to have one subject matter expert working together with someone in communications or marketing.

The idea here is to create content in a more collaborative way. To quickly get to a point where they’re both saying “this is something that we could publish on the website”. Instead of endless debates about should we use this word, or this word?

But the most important thing here is to create content that actually meets the user need.

So how do we know when we’re meeting the need? It’s a really hard question to answer, there can be endless debates in workshops about whether it’s good enough or not. So what you really have to do is to test it.

So I suggest that you not only organise a pair writing workshop, but that you immediately follow up with a usability test.

So here’s one way that you can to do that.

Invite a group of people to a pair writing workshop and let them know they will be working on content first, and afterwards they will observe a usability test. Typically, this would take a full day.

Organise people into pairs and you let each pair decide on a user need that they will create content for. You should probably come up with a list of needs that people could work on before the workshop so that you know who to invite to the workshop.

Each people will get maybe 3 hours to work on some content. If you want to read more about pair writing you can go to the GatherContent blog and look up some posts about it there.

But after three hours, that’s usually the right time to take a lunch break…

But, it’s not time for YOUR lunch break just yet. Because what you have to do it to get the content that these pairs have been working on, into a place where it can be tested. So you need to get it onto the website and maybe you have a test server where you could publish what people have written. Maybe you could create a prototype that has some pages, has some navigation and you could add the content that has been written to that prototype.

And when it’s time for the usability test, you need some users who can participate and help you test it. So you also need to recruit these people before the workshop starts.

During the usability test, your pair writing workshop participants they will have a chance to observe real people test your website and the content they have written, because those users are looking for the answer to the user needs that you had identified and that people have been working on.

So in our experience, it makes the pair writing workshop so much better. Because now there’s a pressure to create something that can be tested, instead of you having to tell people how to write, it’s so much more powerful to have people in the workshop watch real users struggle and realise that oh, we should do this differently. We need to write this in a different way.

Something I hear all the time when people have observed their usability testers, ‘this is the most useful couple of hours I’ve spent in a long time’. And they say things like “I should do this so much more often?”

And yeah, why don’t we do it more often? Use every chance you’ve got to get your team, your stakeholders, your colleagues, to observe your users, real people using your website or your product.

So that’s my tip. From myself and your friends in Oslo, Norway, have a merry Christmas!

About Audun


Audun Rundberg is a content strategist at Netlife Research, a user experience consultancy in Oslo, Norway. Audun is a trained journalist, and spent six years working as a web editor before joining Netlife Research in 2011. At Netlife Research, Audun is a member of a multidisciplinary design team, working on digital products for clients. He’s involved throughout the design process, trying to have a hand in anything from defining the business goals to writing content and prototyping in HTML.

#ContentStrategyAdvent: Day 7 – Using pair writing for better content collaboration, by @audunru

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